Posts Tagged ‘leadership’

It’s a question I get asked so often and the answer is really simple. Having clarity about what your values are and why they are important to you makes decision making easier, makes you stronger and most importantly it lets people know that you have integrity and consistency.

In today’s uncertain world knowing that someone stands for something counts for a huge amount. We often talk about the concept of Brand You in business today. Brand You is not just about your logo, or your title or your profession or even your business name or how you look. Its all of these, but in addition, what it really means is that everything you do and everything you say, positive and negative, is part of Brand You.

When you are crystal clear on your values it is much easier to stay in integrity and not allow anything to taint your brand, simply because you know who you are and what you stand for, and perhaps most importantly, who you stand with. Because if you say one thing, and then endorse people who stand for its opposite, your brand is instantly tarnished. 

This might be hard at first. You might have to upset some people and you might have to change a few allegiances. You might feel you are missing out on opportunities and losing touch with the “cool” crowd. You also might feel vulnerable, letting people know who you really are and what you stand for can feel really scary at first. You might feel exposed and all alone. But in the long run it’s much less stressful than pretending to be someone you’re not, compromising what you believe for the sake of expediency and living your life on shifting sands.

In the long run like attracts like and you will draw to you others who share your values. Leaders do what they say they will do and by doing that they attract other leaders to help them.

So do you want to be in with the cool crowd? Or do you want to run with the leaders?

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I’ve been doing some reading on leadership for a workshop I’m putting together and came across an interesting comparison of leadership and management from the great Jack Welch. He says:

Managers – deal with status quo                  Leaders – deal with change

Managers – work in the system                    Leaders – work on the system

Managers – react                                              Leaders – create opportunities

Managers – control risks                                Leaders – seek opportunities

Managers – enforce organisational rules    Leaders – change organisational rules

Managers – seek and follow direction         Leaders – provide a vision to believe in and strategic alignment

Managers – control people                             Leaders – motivate people

Managers – coordinate effort                         Leaders – inspire achievement

Managers – provide instruction                    Leaders – coach and empower

So here’s what struck me about this list. All of the management activities are left brain detail oriented activities and all of the leadership ones are right brain big picture activities. Being left or right brained is a bit like being left or right handed – its really hard to change our natural way of thinking.

Given that for most people the route to leadership is through management, is it any wonder great leaders are so thin on the ground? Most of the truly great leaders will fall by the wayside because they are likely to be terrible managers! And most of the really great managers will be such control freaks once they get into leadership positions that they will stress and burn out before they get a chance to achieve anything. And the thing is – both of them are really vital to the smooth running of an organisation.

And most people, once they get into leadership positions, are going to have to totally rethink the way they think. And that’s really not easy! Time for Business As Unusual again!

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Its a strange phenomena that people who are supposedly working in a team seem to spend so much time and energy putting each other down. This idea that you can make yourself look good by making others look bad really does belong in the stone age and yet its surprisingly common.

Fundamentally its a sign of insecurity, a deep seated belief that you really don’t belong and the only way you can maintain your position is to undermine everyone else. Sometimes that belief is even justified!

But the greatest leaders will always surround themselves with people who are better than them! They are more concerned with getting results than they are with looking good.

The greatest leaders have confidence in their abilities and realise that everyone in a team has a vital part to play. They don’t need to worry about insecurity because they understand that the leader will be judged on the results of the whole team, not the individuals in the team.

And the greatest leaders will always spend most of their time mentoring people to bring them up to their level because they understand that the only way they themselves can move forward is to groom someone to replace them.

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I’ve had a fascinating couple of days working with some senior African civil servants training them in leadership skills and managing change. Its fascinating in so many ways but what I really love is meeting people who have almost nothing in common with me or with most of the people I know and finding that deep down we are all so similar. It doesn’t seem to matter where we come from, we all have the same fears, the same dreams, the same motivations, and even the same excuses for not achieving more. We may look different, we may talk different languages, wear different clothes and we may appear to have different beliefs but we are so much more alike than we are different.

It reminds me of a wonderful story a wise man told me years ago. He said there are two islands next to each other in the Pacific Ocean, one of them had a volcanic eruption a few years ago and is bleak and rocky with almost no plant life, while the other one is covered in lush jungle with pristine white beaches. On the surface the look totally different but if you go under the water you quickly discover that many of the same fish swim around them, and as you go deeper still you’ll see that much of the plant life is the same, deeper still you will notice that they are both surrounded by the same coral reefs and it would be hard to tell which island you were swimming round, and once you go all the way down, as deep as you can go, you reach the bottom and find that the two islands are actually connected and that they are in fact part of the same thing.

However different we may look on the surface, underneath we are all connected.

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So did you enjoy yesterday’s great story? Did it make you think?

Here’s what I think … and please feel free to disagree with me:

The first guy, Buzz was not a leader. He was a commander, a manager or a boss. He took charge and told people what to do and people did as they were told and the results were fantastic. He was a great manager, he inspired people to trust him and he stretched them beyond where they thought they could go. But ultimately his presence was required to get the desired results. Without him there, things would have gone wrong very quickly. He was not a leader.

The second guy was a leader. He created the circumstances where people could watch and learn. He inspired people to trust themselves and believe in themselves and to become more than they ever thought possible. He allowed everyone to become leaders and to rise to their fullest potential. Ultimately his leadership did not even require his presence to be felt. The influence of a true leader can be felt long after the person has left.

There’s a place for both types. The skill of a truly great leader is to know which you are at any given time, and to know which is needed.

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Here’s a great story about leadership:


By good fortune, I was able to raft down the Motu River in New Zealand twice during the last year. The magnificent four-day journey traverses one of the last wilderness areas in the North Island.

The first expedition was led by “Buzz”, an American guide with a great deal of rafting experience and many stories to tell of mighty rivers such as the Colorado. With a leader like Buzz, there was no reason to fear any of the great rapids on the Motu.

The first half day, in the gentle upper reaches, was spent developing teamwork and co-ordination. Strokes had to be mastered, and the discipline of following commands without question was essential. In the boiling fury of a rapid, there would be no room for any mistake. When Buzz bellowed above the roar of the water, an instant reaction was essential.

We mastered the Motu. In every rapid we fought against the river and we overcame it. The screamed commands of Buzz were matched only by the fury of our paddles, as we took the raft exactly where Buzz wanted it to go.

At the end of the journey, there was a great feeling of triumph. We had won. We proved that we were superior. We knew that we could do it. We felt powerful and good. The mystery and majesty of the Motu had been overcome.

The second time I went down the Motu. the experience I had gained should have been invaluable, but the guide on this journey was a very softly spoken Kiwi. It seemed that it would not even be possible to hear his voice above the noise of the rapids.

As we approached the first rapid, he never even raised his voice. He did not attempt to take command of us or the river. Gently and quietly he felt the mood of the river and watched every little whirlpool. There was no drama and no shouting. There was no contest to be won. He loved the river.

We sped through each rapid with grace and beauty and, after a day, the river had become our friend, not our enemy. The quiet Kiwi was not our leader, but only the person whose sensitivity was more developed than our own. Laughter replaced the tension of achievement.

Soon the quiet Kiwi was able to lean back and let all of us take turns as leader. A quiet nod was enough to draw attention to the things our lack of experience prevented us from seeing. If we made a mistake, then we laughed and it was the next person’s turn.

We began to penetrate the mystery of the Motu. Now, like the quiet Kiwi, we listened to the river and we looked carefully for all those things we had not even noticed the first time.

At the end of the journey, we had overcome nothing except ourselves. We did not want to leave behind our friend, the river. There was no contest, and so nothing had been won. Rather we had become one with the river.

It remains difficult to believe that the external circumstances of the two journeys were similar. The difference was in an attitude and a frame of mind. At the end of the journey, it seemed that there could be no other way. Given the opportunity to choose a leader, everyone would have chosen someone like Buzz. At the end of the second journey, we had glimpsed a very different vision and we felt humble – and intensely happy.

So here’s the question. Which of these instructors was the true leader?

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It doesn’t matter where you are in an organization or even if that organization is just your family, it’s never to early, or for that matter to late, to start behaving like a leader.

In fact in the workplace the earlier you start exhibiting leadership qualities the faster, more easily and higher you will ascend the career ladder.

Here’s a couple of things you can start doing immediately:

Set clear and definite goals and be able to explain them and the reasons for them to any member of your team. Tell every member of the team what your expectations are in terms of activities, results and outcomes including deadlines and targets and get their agreement at the start of a project.

Provide all the support necessary to achieve the goal and instruct every team member to use that support as soon as they need it, including training, mentoring and coaching where necessary. If a team member feels unable to come to you for support you are not being a good leader.

At the outset, set out and agree with your team the “rules of play” including the consequences of failure and make sure those rules are enforced fairly.

A lot of leaders think knowledge is power and try to keep information to themselves. This is not leadership, this is playing power games and a sure sign of insecurity. A really great leader will allow and expect a free flow of information, both positive and negative. Trying to control information is SO last century!

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